Saturday, September 29, 2018

Rum, Jealousy and Murder.

George Widman and Thomas Brownlee accompanied a young lady name Miss Norris on an excursion up the Hudson River from Yonkers, New York to Newberg, aboard the steamer Grand Republic on Sunday, October 5, 1879. Widman, a 25-year-old carpenter, and Brownlee, a 27-year-old blacksmith were good friends, members of the same hose company of the Yonkers fire department. Widman was a steady man with quiet, temperate habits; Brownlee was a hard drinker known to become quarrelsome when drunk.

As the trip progressed, it became clear the Miss Norris favored the attention of Widman, who had taken her to the circus the previous Friday. Brownlee drank heavily on the boat and expressed his feelings toward Widman in very intemperate language.

When the boat returned to Yonkers the two men were seen walking down the Main Street together and there appeared to be no ill-will between them. About twenty minutes later, Brownlee pulled a leather case from his pocket. He opened the case, drew out a five-shot pistol, and fired at Widman hitting him in the groin, severing two arteries. 

“Oh! Oh!” cried Widman falling to the sidewalk. 

The shot drew the attention of Roundsman Woodruff who rushed to the scene and found Brownlee trying to rouse Widman. George Widman was rushed to St. John’s Hospital but died on the way. Brownlee was arrested for murder. There had been two witnesses to the shooting so there was no question that Brownlee was the killer, but he claimed the shot was accidental

The pistol recently acquired by Brownlee had an interesting history. It had originally belonged to Roundsman Woodruff and fell out of his pocket, still in its leather case, as he climbed a fence while perusing a criminal. Before Woodruff realized it was gone, James Douglas found it on the ground and turned a quick profit when he sold it to Brownlee for $2. After shooting Widman, Brownlee threw it into a stagnant pond near the road, only the leather case remained.

There were two theories of why Brownlee shot his friend. The first was jealousy over Widman winning the affection of Miss Norris. The second theory, considered more likely, was his anger that Widman had not come to his aid when he got into a drunken altercation with a stranger on board the boat.

Whatever the trigger, the root cause of Brownlee’s action was alcohol. He maintained that the shooting was accidental and at his trial the following March the defense contended that he was “unconscious from the effects of liquor.” Thomas Brownlee was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

“Murdering His Companion,” The New York Times, October 7, 1879.
“Rum, Jealousy, and Murder,” National Police Gazette, October 11, 1879.
“Rum, Jealousy and Murder,” New York Daily Herald, October 7, 1879.
“Sent to Prison for Life,” New York Tribune, March 6, 1880.
“Shot In The Street At Yonkers,” New York Tribune, October 7, 1879.


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